Deployment Models are Changing for SMEs

Comms Business Magazine talks to key vendors as well as resellers that specialise in selling call centre applications to the smaller user and looks at the applications available for resellers selling in this space.

Contacting a call centre as a user of that organisations’ services can be a difficult business. Whereas when you want to buy something from a firm they answer the phone within milliseconds, once you have paid your money and have the product/service the number provided for after sales service seems like a visit to the twilight zone.

New research by call and contact centre firm Avaya reveals that UK consumers don’t value a wholesale approach to customer service in the contact centre, instead they want different types and levels of technology involvement depending on the nature of interactions and their seriousness.

The survey of 2,000 UK consumers shows that businesses are missing an opportunity to gain competitive advantage through their strategic approach to customer service. Consumers want more stringent technology and automation for more sensitive interactions, but not for all of them. For example, 81% said they are comfortable using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) when dealing with financial matters, while 55% of respondents would be happy using voice biometric technology when checking their account balance. But only a minority (35%) see biometrics as an option for more general and less sensitive tasks such as renewing car insurance.

Similarly, while consumers’ enthusiasm for self-service and new media remains strong, they still appreciate personal interactions with agents to get the appropriate support and assistance when dealing with more complex services and products. With 60% of organisations now asking for security details when there is no need, it’s hardly surprising that one in two consumers becomes frustrated with call centre agents when there are security or identity problems.  Once connected, if the transaction involves payment, only 5% of consumers think speaking to an agent in a UK call centre is secure, and this reduces to just 2% for overseas call centres.

The Importance of Voice

Despite analyst firms predicting recently that within a few years that 80% of all calls will be answered by some form of automated response process we all still like to talk over a problem with someone that can sort things out straight away.

Simon Culmer, Managing Director, UK, Avaya, agrees. “There is still a very strong role for voice in the contact centre as it offers unrivalled versatility in solving complex queries and a key gateway for those who are not online – nearly 20% of the UK population. That said, technical solutions to address concerns about fraud and data security are also critical. In essence, UK businesses need to listen to their customers, assess their corporate requirements and look at the demands being placed on them through their customer service channels, and from there determine the right strategy and solutions to meet their customer service needs.”

Just how sophisticated do the products have to be in this sector?

John Rees, Content Guru Commercial Director says the key dynamic in the SME and mid-market sector has never been the lack of need for sophisticated contact centre functionality. It has always been a question of cost.

Whatever the business, and whatever its size, it is nearly always possible to find ways in which technology could be applied to improve contact centre performance. The limiting factor has commonly been the level of investment associated with contact centre solutions. SMEs have always had to balance the technological possibilities with the realities of cost, and the more sophisticated end of the technology market has often typically been beyond reach.

Steve Powell, Head of Contact Centre Solutions at Mitel says his company engages across multiple verticals and in his experience some customers require straightforward solutions such as intelligent call routing to agent groups, whilst others operate in very complex environments even in 30-50 seats centre.

“The requirements can include everything from intelligent call routing, sophisticated IVR, predicative dialling and agent scripting functionality, as well as multimedia call routing. The sophistication of any solution is very much dictated by the given customer, the vertical they operate in and the level of complexity that business requires.”

Colin Mann at Aastra says his company is seeing an increasing trend towards implementing Enterprise type features across all communications in the SME space.

“The biggest issue for SMEs is not that they don’t want the more advanced features but that they don’t have the time or resources to make full use of the more sophisticated elements.

We believe in giving customers a choice by delivering entry level options if they only need the basics but the ability to implement more advanced solutions if required.

The best contact centre opportunities for resellers are in the SME space. Many of the larger contact centres are already working with specialist partners and most of the UK market is formed of 30-50 seat contact centres and in-house teams within a HQ.

Warren Lincoln, Sales Manager at Juniper Bridge, the technical contact centre specialists, believes that call centre solutions are required to be both intuitive in the front end (CTI, Customer Base Memory ECT) but also need to interact  with multiple vendors in the back end. Therefore products have to be advanced from an order processing perspective and also to automate work processes across different sectors.

Is there a need for third party software solutions over and above in skin PBX vendor solutions and ask ‘are they really necessary?’

Paul, Burn, Head of Category Sales at Nimans ,“An awful lot of PBX in-skin software is third party that’s an OEM version. You could argue it has a massive impact, although under the radar. There aren’t many vendors that have developed their own specific solutions. Truly bolt-on services aren’t required as much and in addition there’s a nervousness from some dealers to maybe use too much that is out of their comfort and support zone. If they are putting in an OEM call centre solution then they know they can go to their supplier and ask for help. If they go fully third party and a problem arises there’s a question mark over who takes responsibility for that.”

As if to prove the point, Colin Mann at Aastra is succinct when he says, “Vendors such as Aastra already provide the technology and expertise required and therefore third party contact centre solutions are not necessary. Third party solutions can add value in areas such as call recording or logging as these more specialist features are not always available in-the-box for CPE solutions.”

On the other hand, Lee Jones, CEO at Red Box Recorders, says ‘Yes, definitely’ to the third party solutions.

“PBX manufacturers focus on the technology they know best, delivering communication systems, but their customers have many and varied needs. Typically, the manufacturers rely on 3rd party products to fulfil these needs allowing them to focus on their core business. This allows a complete solution to be delivered to the customer without heavy investment in diverse areas for the PBX manufacturer.

Most PBX manufacturers have a developers program and readily encourage 3rd party developers to integrate with their systems. In addition, many will have levels of certification, which effectively authenticates the application for use with their equipment.

Some PBX manufacturers may have simple ‘record a call’ technology but this tends not to be geared for high volumes of calls. It will also not have the necessary technology for PCI compliance or audio analytics requirements, and whilst many will provide call logging outputs, this will not include a fully featured call management system.”

Robin Hayman, Product and Marketing Director at SpliceCom says the days of the ‘one-size fits all approach to Call Centre sales is coming to end.

“The arrogant stance taken by vendors – ‘we are the experts, this is our solution for all your requirements, take it or leave it’ – is gradually being replaced by a more consultative stance. When you consider that all Call Centres are not the same, indeed each one is unique in terms of how it is to be used and what it needs to achieve, then a single solution can only ever address a small fraction of the marketplace in a meaningful manner.”

Warren Lincoln says, “It will always be necessary to provide customisation and bespoke software in an industry that evolves in a heartbeat. Therefore there will forever be a place to build these integration as VOIP will ultimately rule out PBX solutions. The contact centre market also knows what solutions they need and the ultimate convergence for them is to wrap the phone system and call centre software together whilst remaining commercially competitive and also harnessing the future proof benefits of the cloud.”

Steve Powell at Mitel believes that the majority of contact centre managers and IT managers are looking for an all-in-one solution from a single vendor for simplified integration, a more compelling total cost of ownership and a simplified support model.

“Where complex solutions are needed then the addition of third party applications above in skin PBX systems is absolutely necessary. Customer requirements will dictate the inclusion of third party vendors who can provide industry-leading solutions, which can include IVR, dialing apps and scripting application.”

Daniel Fuller-Smith, Sales Manager for Toshiba says that most functionality SMEs ask for can be achieved through their PBX vendor, rather than third party software, however resellers need to work closely with their PBX vendor to make sure they understand which applications, third party or not, work best with their existing system.

“It’s when this doesn’t happen that SMEs can be left disappointed in their quest for enhanced productivity, leaving them with an application that costs them less, but isn’t necessarily compatible with their PBX. Buying off the shelf could also cost SMEs more in the future because they often aren’t scalable like many skin PBX solutions available from vendors.”

Daniel Fuller-Smith

Daniel Fuller-Smith

Is there a role to play now for cloud based call and contact centre applications?

John Rees, Content Guru Commercial Director notes that with leading analysts anticipating growth in excess of 250% in the contact centre as a service (CCaaS) market over the next 5 years, cloud-based solutions look set to take on an increasingly prominent role in the contact centre space.

“As the market for cloud-based solutions evolves, it will continue to redefine the contact centre as a concept and unlock new possibilities for the SME and mid-market sector.

Cloud has already gone a considerable way towards reimagining the contact centre as we understand it. It has proven that the contact centre is more than just a physical location. It is now possible for smaller businesses or mid-market organisations operating multiple sites to leverage their existing resources and create a virtual contact centre in the cloud.

The fact is, most small businesses often already have the fundamental building blocks of a contact centre in place without even realising it. The key element is skilled personnel. With the CCaaS model, SMEs with skilled workers operating across multiple sites can use skills-based routing to make all these people available to field contact centre calls irrespective of their geographical location.

Going forward, cloud will continue to play a prominent role in lowering barriers to entry for the contact centre space, enabling SMEs to extract maximum value from their communications infrastructure and raise the level of service they are able to offer their customers.”

Hosted call centre applications are becoming far more readily available for the channel with VanillaIP running Broadsoft’s latest call centre release, but with their own Unity custom apps for Agent, Supervisor and Wallboard overlaid across the top.

Marketing Manager Steve Tutt says, “This unlocks some powerful additional functionality such as capturing and automating call backs to the CLI of abandoned callers. This is more than just a ‘nice to have’ as numerous studies have shown that promptly calling back an abandoned caller can give them a warmer customer service impression than if their call had been answered promptly in the first instance.

For an inbound sales enquiry the financial reward of employing the service can be even more immediate, rescuing sales opportunities before the customer dials the next option in Google! Our ability to have Alert Thresholds also provides an additional layer of control in the call centre, where Supervisors or business owners are proactively alerted of unusual call patterns, allowing them to take remedial action, rather than just triggering an overflow behaviour.

The beauty is that, as a cloud SaaS solution, this full productivity suite is available to all customers whether they have three people taking inbound sales enquiries or a 500 seat call centre based in three time zones.”

Colin Mann at Aastra believes that customers today want to be able to access tools, applications and content across the devices they want to use and wherever they are located.

“This can be achieved by both on-premises equipment and within cloud environments but the common theme of both is that they should be IP ready as this offers customers the flexibility they need.

MZA Ltd state over 75% of contact centres will be IP-based within the next five years from a base of about 40% today.

IP and open standards based solutions will also enable customers to integrate their technologies into third party applications such as CRM or finance systems.

For example, ContactBabel state that call centre agents spend 12.5% of each hour in after-call work and this costs the industry £2.6bn each year. If a 50-seat contact centre handling 0.5M calls a year could reduce the wrap-up time by 20% this could save £50K as well as savings in training, shorter queues and simplification.

Aastra’s contact centre technologies can and are being delivered in a cloud environment. A multimedia contact centre, such as Aastra Solidus eCare, can also be used in a virtualised environment including High Availability and Fault Tolerance.

Our position at Aastra UK is that there are benefits to both CPE and hosted solutions – we recommend that resellers ensure that the technology being sold is IP based and identify the key benefits that customers want in order to be able to sell solutions.

Another proponent of cloud based call and contact centre deployments is Robert Bates, Commercial Director, Ultra Communications, who says, “With few organisations willing to make large capital investments in contact centre infrastructure and systems in recent years, the technology market has very clearly shifted from on-premise to Cloud services.  Indeed, the consensus view amongst leading industry analysts is that the Cloud contact centre technology market has grown at around 30-40% per annum in recent years against a relatively static market for on-premise technology.

“Many of the inherent advantages of switching to Cloud technology are well known to end users (see box copy).  However, in our experience, it’s one of the less frequently discussed advantages that is arguably the most important.  Namely, that by taking on a Cloud service provider, you are buying into a partnership with an expert.  Experienced Cloud vendors are able to not only advise on contact centre set-up and technology best practice, but also provide both reactive and proactive service.  Ultra’s real-time Performance Monitoring service, for example, provides free access to operational and technical experts who monitor performance, traffic fluctuations, advisor availability and client network problems – liaising with client representatives to suggest improvements on an on-going basis.”

Lee Jones, CEO, Red Box Recorders says that with high-speed Internet access more widely available it is much easier to deploy hosted IP solutions.

“In particular, start-ups often do not want the high capital cost associated with a PBX system, so a monthly Opex expenditure is far more acceptable and flexible.

Companies that grow really fast can often out-grow their initial investment and are faced with another large bill to upgrade, but with a hosted solution this can just keep growing as required. Furthermore, organisations do not have to worry about any costly upgrades or maintenance, as this is the responsibility of the service provider, and hosted solutions will often provide better features and functions than what a small PBX system would deliver.”

Robin Hayman says you need to consider the ‘three P’s’ of a Call Centre solution – Payment, Placement and Purpose.

“A reseller ideally needs to be able to offer Capex, Opex and flexible licencing terms – allowing a Call Centre to increase and/or decrease the number of Agents, Supervisors, Wallboards, Trunks, etc. to meet seasonal or periodic business demands.

As with everyday business telephony, there needs to be a choice of where the Call Centre can be located; on-site, in the cloud or hosted, or deployed as a hybrid solution. Operation should range from the simple (for those organisations that don’t realise they’re running a Call Centre – even though they are) through evermore-complex customer interaction scenarios, with a clear upgrade path between the two extremes. Customers should be able to choose if the want the Call Centre application to run on their standard desktop IP phones – allowing agents to use conventional handsets for all tasks, with or without headsets – or dispense with hard phones altogether and go with fully integrated IP softphone applications.

The bottom line is that Call Centre solutions should ideally be single sourced, from simple embedded “in-the-skin” products all the way to high-end, Enterprise class offerings. However, they MUST be sympathetic to the culture of the prospective customer, not force businesses to work around the technology offered, as has been the case for far too long.”

As a call centre software solution provider that has migrated to cloud-based applications over the last five years, David Ford, Managing Director, Magnetic North says he has seen the evolution of ‘call centre in the cloud’ first hand.

“However I definitely think that we have now reached a tipping point in terms of market adoption.

A few years ago, the average seat size of our clients was around 25 to 30, but today we’re seeing call centres with seats in the hundreds and more moving away from on-premise systems and into the cloud.

Even a couple of years ago, CIO’s still wanted to be able to ‘put their arms around’ the technology, whereas today there is a recognition that a cloud-based solution can deliver the same, or even a better outcome with a lower overhead, much more flexibility and much less headache.

Organisations of every size are being forced to do more with less and this is definitely helping to speed up the move to the cloud. There are so many benefits to using cloud providers that CIOs are now embracing it for more and more ‘mission critical’ business applications

The reason the smaller centres adopted cloud early is because it was their only option – they could not invest the capex needed for an on-premise solution. However, this also gives them flexibility within their business, allowing them to operate with a ‘lean’ approach. But the same benefit applies for bigger call centres too.

In particular the flexible cost model is definitely a real driver; rather than paying out for licenses for the maximum number of seats you might use, we as a cloud provider can be entirely flexible and bill you only for whatever seats you actually use in a month. That means if you’re an outsourcing provider running 300 seats for three different clients, if one of those client contracts ends, you’re not left paying for licenses you don’t need.”

Colin Mann of Aastra

Colin Mann of Aastra

Reseller Comment

Staffordshire based reseller ctalk told Comms Business Magazine; “Products within the Call and Contact Centres market need to be just as feature rich and comprehensive as in any other sector. The demands of the SME market have grown increasingly as companies begin to realise that solution providers have addressed their requirements and provided cost effective multi-channel solutions.

The need for third party solutions is imperative. PBX Vendors will traditionally service the general requirements of companies within this sector providing entry-level solutions. These solutions will typically include enterprise products reserved for enterprise customers.  Through the inclusion of third party software solutions, there will invariably be an opportunity to make enterprise multi-channel solutions affordable for all with a higher degree of flexibility towards product and pricing.

We have seen a 70% increase in companies choosing a cloud based solution over the past 12 months. Disaster Recovery is the primary driving factor behind the shift with SME companies understanding that they no longer want a single point of failure. Private circuits with dual resilience also help to achieve Disaster Recovery with more companies also looking for multi-site solutions that can work alongside multi-vendor platforms.

Ed Says…

John Rees at Content Guru sums it up well when he says the rise of cloud technology has been a game changer. Cloud’s OpEx commercial structure means that mid-market businesses are now able to leverage the advanced level of enterprise-grade functionality that has previously been denied to them.

As cloud continues to mature, the barriers to adopting advanced contact centre capabilities will continue to lower. SMEs can expect to compete with enterprises on a more level playing field, and the most successful products will be those that give them the sophisticated functionality with which to do so.



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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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